To the Editor,
Searching for Democracy in Regional Land Use Planning by Michael J. Good, MS
Every coastal community of Maine is experiencing some type of Land Use issue. In Bar Harbor, the citizens collectively decided, through a vote, that we needed a moratorium on residential subdivisions large and small, and it passed easily. Part of that “democratic” process has been an enormous public effort to gather the most recent ecological and landscape development information and marry the two to form an excellent forward-thinking Land Use Ordinance.
I have been in attendance for the Bar Harbor planning board January and February , and the Town Council’s meeting February 7, 2006, to begin the final perusals over of the language of individual Land Use Ordinance articles before they go to a citizens vote on June 13th 2006 at a Special Town Meeting. I have been impressed by the level of the discussion over reasonably difficult Land Use issues. In Bar Harbor there are some technical issues that need to be ironed out but most of us who have attended meetings, feel a strong sense of accomplishment in beginning to set the stage for planned RESIDENTAL SUBDIVISION development and smart growth.
What concerns me and others the most is the past voting record of Town Council members in general along coastal Maine, not just Bar Harbor, on issues and amendments that have been researched by worthy committees only to be chopped out when they should have been voted on by the entire community. From weekly rentals to the environment, compromises have been made in Bar Harbor and workable Land Use Ordinance amendments have been produced that are worthy of the people of our community to vote upon and for, if they collectively choose to. Blue Hill is currently experiencing a similar situation by their Town Council.
We need forward- thinking LUZO plans for our towns along the Gulf of Maine coast because of the "Cumulative Effect" of development over time. This is what Bar Harbor is trying to do with RESIDENTIAL SUBDIVISIONS ONLY. There is science and practical reasoning behind common sense changes decided on by an entire community through the democratic process of VOTING. That is why we asked for a moratorium. We have a responsibility of “good stewardship” to the future Maine coastal dwellers like our children. Developers must not control the situation. (Ellsworth American, “Developers are calling the shots” January 26, 2006)
One of the greatest compromises that I found during this process was on the subject of vernal pools in a proposed RESIDENTIAL SUBDIVISION ONLY. We know from scientific studies that creatures of many species (i.e. birds) utilize and others migrate away from Vernal Pools and we know that Wood Frogs travel over 1500 feet from them. Yet the compromise you will see in our LUZO Amendments are only 25-75 feet buffers. This is not New Jersey, it’s Maine in case you forgot! That’s more than a compromise and for a significant vernal pool, depending on the use and structure’s involved, it would have to be thought about very carefully by a board. This is the purpose of a sound LUZO and a no-brainer unless you have an agenda. The current proposals in Bar Harbor are protective and impressive so far and worthy of approval by the VOTERS. Ultimately Vernal pools and forested wetlands are the first vital link to our coastal fisheries which are in decline.
The rapidly changing times require that towns and especially town councils and planning boards along the coast of Maine to stop your typical rhetoric, misinformation and pooh-poohing ways as we are all directly responsible for the degradation of our natural resources. Your waffling is absolutely counter to long term economic development for the region.. As a business owner and leader in the environmental community it is imperative that you allow the people of our communities to have the final say on all land use amendments by voting on what our committees deem important. The community wants to vote on vernal pools or weekly rentals, or minor site plan review, for example, because we want those issues to be part of the process, part of a healthy thriving community. What many of us will be looking out for are those of you that have political or economic agendas that HINDER the process that should be voted on collectively by the people.
What rests on the shoulders of Maine people is how our communities are going to look, feel and function both economically and environmentally. Many types of economies depend on rational Land Use Ordinances not just developers. But the people need to make the final choices by voting. Lets just try to approach what our fore parents had in mind. The communities of the Frenchmen and Blue Hill Bay, for example, are communities whose bread-and-butter lie in preservation of the unique biodiversity that is Maine and the Maine coastal habitats containing all of our food and economy.
Under the current situation in our country, I am having a hard time remembering what a Democracy is.
Michael J. Good, MS is the president of Down East Nature Tours, a member of the Chamber of Commerce and a concerned Town Hill Maine Resident.